Spies

1928

Action / Romance / Thriller

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2.28 GB
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2hr 58 min
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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Steffi_P 9 / 10

"Whose blood shall I wear around my neck tonight?"

One of things that I think attracts young film fans to German cinema from the Weimar period is that it displays a striking stylistic extremism that captivates modern viewers not yet used to silent cinema. This ranges from Murnau's technical effects extravaganzas, to Lubitsch's off-the-wall comedy creations and, of course, Fritz Lang's angular architecture and comic-book sense of adventure.

A mistaken impression with these pictures is that they got to be so stylised because of a higher degree of artistic freedom in the European studios. However UFA studios were just as much about collaboration and commercialism as those in Hollywood. While individual directors did have a lot of control over the look of their pictures, these overt styles owe more to the influence of German theatre, as well as German literature, painting and the opera.

As with any cinema, anywhere, one of the most important collaborators is the screenwriter. No matter how strong or attention-grabbing your visual style is, if you haven't got the story, you haven't got anything. Spione features one of the best efforts from Lang's collaborator and wife Thea von Harbou, and is in many ways a tightened-up reworking of Dr Mabuse. Whereas that earlier picture was full of unnecessarily long title cards, Spione is far more succinct, allowing the audience to fill in the gaps. Importantly it begins with a lengthy piece of pure silent storytelling, which helps to engage us before bombarding us with verbal information. Harbou's characters are also very strong. It's a nice touch to make arch-villain Haghi wheelchair bound – a man who is weak in body but strong in means and influence.

Lang himself was by now a master of his own highly individual technique. Space and set décor should be important to every director, but Lang is probably the only one who tells his stories more through architecture than through actors. With rooms so bizarre and angular they would probably drive most people mad if they had to live or work in them, Lang sets a tone for each location, and thus for each scene. Narrow corridors give a sense of entrapment; open doorways leading onto larger spaces give a sense of uneasiness; crisscrossing diagonals carve up the screen, often drawing our attention to things and people. One thing that especially stands out in Spione is that way Lang often creates compositions that are almost-but-not-quite symmetrical. Just as a great colour director like Vincente Minnelli might throw in a splash of blue to offset (and thus bring to life) a shot full of shades of red, Lang adds for example the nurse standing to one side of an otherwise symmetrical shot of Haghi sat at his desk.

Even Lang's choice of camera position was strictly angular. He is either to one side, detached from the action, or he is right inside it with actors staring straight into the lens. He rarely uses, say, opposing over-the-shoulder shots that many directors would for intimate dialogue scenes, but his methods were nonetheless effective. Spione in fact features one of his most beautifully constructed romantic scenes in the first meeting between Willy Fritsch and Gerda Maurus. Lang begins with the camera to one side, simply filming the meeting as a casual observer. He then begins placing the camera between them, interspersed with close-ups of hands or other objects, making us experience the growing emotional intensity as well as that slight feeling of awkwardness. We then return to a shot to the side of the actors, but closer this time, as they move in for their first kiss. In spite of his reputation Lang could be incredibly tender and sentimental at times.

Exaggerated acting tends to be part and parcel of that over-the-top nature of German silent cinema, and in the case of Lang's features it is often particularly apt given the comic-book style characters and situations. Spione is no exception, but it is nice to see the normally animated Rudolf Klein-Rogge getting to underplay it a little as a cool and collected villain. Lupu Pick also gives a very deep and emotionally complex performance as the Japanese ambassador.

The upshot of this collaboration is an incredibly exciting and satisfying picture, even though it is rarely referenced as one of Fritz Lang's best. If it is remembered at all it is usually for its resemblance to later gadget-based espionage thrillers, as well as containing many of the suspense building techniques later employed by Hitchcock, such as letting the audience in on things the characters do not know. It is, nevertheless, among the most carefully constructed, exciting and purely enjoyable of Lang's silent pictures, and an improvement on the better-known Dr Mabuse.

Reviewed by stefan.loosen ([email protected]) 9 / 10

The pre-ultimate Bond-film

Okay, the movie doesn't feature the secret agent with the famous number 007. But after I've seen this really entertaining movie , I wondered if Ian Fleming saw this movie before he created his legendary hero. It contains everything we already know from the James Bond movies:

- A strong and handsome hero with a secret identity number (this time 326) - A sinister and evil villain in a wheelchair (without a white cat, but with a striking resemblance to Lenin) - A secret headquarter for the villains - An attractive heroine, who falls immediately in love with the hero - exiting action-sequences and chases (featuring a crashing train and motorcycles) etc., etc. . Willy Fritsch is very good in the role of the hero (even though you wouldn't associate him with this genre when you saw his comedies) and Rudolf Klein Rogge (the mad scientist from Metropolis) is perfectly evil. The movie is fast-paced and very entertaining, despite its length of nearly three hours. Lang shows that he is correctly regarded as one of the best german directors of all time and that he is capable of succeeding in every genre, be it science-fiction, crime or even spy-adventures.

Reviewed by MARIO GAUCI ([email protected]) 9 / 10

SPIONE (Fritz Lang, 1928) ***1/2

Fritz Lang, undeniably one of the greatest and most influential film-makers in all of cinema, is one of my favorites and, from his early work – which remains, perhaps, his most important – I only had a few of his surviving films still to catch up with. SPIONE was one of them and, now that I've watched it, I can confirm its stature as one of his very best, if relatively little-known.

The film is basically a follow-up to Lang's seminal two-part DR. MABUSE, THE GAMBLER (1922) and, indeed, it's Rudolph Klein-Rogge himself – who originated the role of Mabuse – who plays the evil crimelord here (called Haghi and who is made-up to resemble Lenin!). SPIONE follows much the same pattern of intrigue, thrills and action; however, the film's narrative structure is not straightforward but rather elliptical and, even though ostensibly dealing with the conflict which may arise were a treaty to fall into the wrong hands, several major plot points are left deliberately obscure (in fact, we never get to know what the treaty actually contains – a precursor to Hitchcock's beloved "McGuffin", perhaps – or what Haghi's intentions are, once he gets his hands on it!). In this respect, the social conscience so pronounced in the Mabuse diptych – coming, as it did, on the heels of Germany's defeat in WWI – is largely jettisoned here in favor of romance (between a female spy desired, and being blackmailed, by Haghi and the Secret Service agent who is the mastermind's nemesis), eroticism (the ensnaring of a central political figure by a vamp in Haghi's service) and technical dexterity (ensuring that SPIONE's considerable 2½-hour running-time goes by rapidly and without any longueurs, in my estimation at least, as opposed to the sluggish and rather static Mabuse). It is not inconceivable, therefore, to discern in Lang's fanciful melodrama the germ for all the spy thrillers which followed – from Hitchcock to the James Bond extravaganzas and beyond.

As befits a master story-teller like Lang, particularly during this most creative phase of his career, SPIONE is virtually a catalogue of memorable scenes (interestingly enough, the supplementary photo gallery includes shots from sequences that are missing in the main feature!) – chief among them a ghostly visitation, a ritual suicide, a train-wreck, a police raid on a bank and a stage performance by a clown; however – as opposed to the DVD back-cover, which blatantly spells out its most clever twist – in emulation of the film itself, I've refrained from giving too much away about them here …

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